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Business Last Updated: Jul 10, 2008 - 7:53:08 AM

Tales of Tony Buckingham
By MATTHEW VELLA, Malta Today 6/7/08
Jul 10, 2008 - 7:48:22 AM

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Controversial and notorious – nothing could be closer to the truth for the man whom the Maltese government has licensed to conduct oil exploration in the islands’ south-eastern shelf, close to the disputed median line with Libya. That man is British oil tycoon Tony Buckingham, chief executive of the Canadian company Heritage Oil. Last December, Heritage was given two offshore areas spread over 18,000 square kilometres in a 30-year deal.

But Buckingham is not the average chief executive who slogged his way up through boardroom battles.

The truth can be found right inside Heritage Oil’s 300-page prospectus, which explicitly points out how “Mr Buckingham… has had no involvement with any military or security operators since the spring of 1998”.

This, then, is how Tony Buckingham’s mercenary past in Africa and beyond, his befriending of dictators and oil barons, took him to the London listing of the €940 million Heritage Oil, with its assets in Russia, Oman, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali, Pakistan, Kurdistan, and now even in Malta.

Friends in dark places

Only two weeks ago, mercenary Simon Mann went on trial in Equatorial Guinea. Mann, a former Scots Guard, is imprisoned in Equatorial Guinea, and faces trial for leading the failed coup to depose oil dictator Teodoro Obiang Nguema, who has ruled the country since 1979.

He was arrested in 2004 disembarking from a plane with 60 other mercenaries in Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe.

Today, Heritage Oil’s prospectus makes it clear that Buckingham “has had no substantive business contact with Simon Mann since 1998 and no contact of any nature with him since 2000. He had no knowledge of Mr Mann’s activity Guinea.”

And the reason for such a dubious disclaimer is Mann’s and Buckingham’s past in the mercenary outfit Executive Outcomes, which they used to recover oil installations belonging to Heritage Oil from UNITA rebels in Angola.

For Tony Buckingham, the fact that his old friend is on trial for the foiled coup has brought yet more digging inside his business connections in the Caribbean tax havens.

Mann is the director of the company Logo Limited, the company he used for purchasing arms and paying mercenaries. The Equatorial Guinea legal action is connecting Logo to Hansard Trust Company Ltd and Hansard Management – companies which hold one share in each of four companies within Heritage Oil’s corporate structure. What is known is that both Logo and Hansard have the same business address in St Peter Port.

There is yet, no evidence links Buckingham with Mann, although it’s the latest in a series of connections between the two.

War mercenary

Born in 1951, Heritage’s prospectus says that in 1989, Anthony Leslie Buckingham, a former British SAS officer, became an adviser to the government of Angola and assisted the Angolan Oil Ministry in establishing Sonangol as an oil and gas exploration and production company. He founded Heritage Oil in 1992, and together with Sonangol held operations there.

In 1993, when the Angolan holding was overrun by communist UNITA rebels, Buckingham, together with Lt-Col Eeben Barlow – a former Apartheid-era member of the South African Defence Force – and former Scots Guard Simon Mann became business partners in Executive Outcomes, a private military company formed by Barlow in 1989.

Executive Outcomes’ senior personnel were composed primarily of former members of the South African Defence Force and later fought against UNITA to retake their operations.

But Executive Operations is also infamous for its involvement with another British mercenary company, Sandline International, that broke a UN arms embargo in Sierra Leone, allegedly with British government approval. Sandline’s CEO was the retired Lt-Col Tim Spicer OBE.

In 1995, the government of Sierra Leone engaged Executive Outcomes to train the Sierra Leone army and support it in defeating RUF rebels. Sandline International was formed in late 1996 with Buckingham as one of the principals.

In 1997, when a military coup ousted president Ahmad Tejan Kabbah of Sierra Leone, millionaire Indian financier Rakesh Saxena contracted Sandline to organise a counter-coup in exchange for diamond exploration permits. The Heritage prospectus says Sandline had the tacit approval of the British government as well as support from a Royal Navy frigate. Saxena is implicated in the fraud and collapse of the Bangkok Bank of Commerce in 1996 and is today trying avoid extradition to Thailand from Canada to face embezzlement charges.

According to the British Parliament’s Report of the Sierra Leone Arms Investigation, Saxena would raise the money so that Sandline could hire soldiers and buy equipment.

Sandline was also engaged by the government of Papua New Guinea to suppress the Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA), which was seeking independence from the PNG.

At the Papua New Guinea Commission of Enquiry into Sandline’s contract with the PNG government, the enquiry concluded that the ‘controllers’ of Sandline were obviously Buckingham and at least to some extent Spicer. It said Executive Outcomes was a ‘significant’ sub-contractor of Sandline and ‘supplied a significant number of the personnel’ brought to PNG by Sandline.

Sandline International became dormant and the company was dissolved in 2004, while Executive Outcomes was dissolved in 1999.

Besides Sandline and Executive Outcomes, Tony Buckingham is also the principal shareholder in Indigo Sky Gem, a mining company which bought the exclusive prospecting rights for diamonds on the Neu Schwaben farm from the Namibian government. It is accused of using ‘strong-arm’ tactics to evict some 1,000 small-time miners who had been digging for the gems for years.

Such is the risk, then, documented inside Heritage’s prospectus: “Adverse media… about the CEO’s past associations could materially adversely affect the group’s reputation and the market price of the ordinary shares.”

And even though the prospectus neatly transcribes Buckingham’s mercenary past into struggles aimed at restoring internationally recognised governments and combating rebels, or that Heritage’s efforts are firmly focused in oil and gas exploration, the perfect tonic to Buckingham’s reputation is JP Morgan Cazenove’s research note: “Heritage ought to be seen as a high-risk, high-impact play… with a tolerance for share-price volatility.”

Source:Ocnus.net 2008

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